REVIEW: 2:22 – A Ghost Story, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday *****

Kitchen think drama: Vera Chok’s Lauren, left, Jay McGuiness’s Ben and Fiona Wade’s Lauren in Danny Robins’s 2:22 – A Ghost Story

THIS is turning into a boom year for thrillers as much as musicals at the Grand Opera House. First, The Woman In Black, then Sleuth, now 2:22 – A Ghost Story, and still to come, the courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men in May and The 39 Steps in July.

York, Europe’s self-proclaimed “most haunted city”, loves ghost stories. Here is a new one, a smart invader from modern-day London in a breathtaking show that has all the quality of an award-winning West End production, transferred to the tour circuit without any loss of capital-city gloss.

Just look at that state-of-the-art, open-plan, glass-encased kitchen, in Anna Fleischle’s desirable set design, topped off by the social and cultural wit of a James Graham comedy and a sleight of hand worthy of Derren Brown’s mind games.

Everything is right from the start. A packed auditorium is humming with excitement, nervous too, the tension cranked up by the dizzying, speeding turnover of numbers on the electronic clock – anything but 2:22! – to the accompaniment of Ian Dickinson’s propulsive sound design, setting the pulse racing too.

Throughout, Dickinson and lighting designer Lucy Carter will work in wickedly gleeful tandem, interjecting at regular intervals with sudden sounds, screams, blinding lights and a framing of the proscenium arch in red light at the start of each scene. You will judder, you will shudder, you may well shreak, jolted by the yelps of foxes doing what foxes do in the garden.

From the imagination of The Battersea Poltergeist and Uncanny podcaster, broadcaster and journalist Danny Robins comes the paranormal tale of teacher-on-maternity-leave Jenny (Fiona Wade) and always-right scientist Sam (George Rainsford) hosting their first dinner party since becoming the latest “posh tw*ts” to move into a newly gentrified Greater London neighbourhood.

Sam will be heading back from a work trip on the Isle of Sark. For several nights, however, Jenny has been disturbed at 2:22am precisely by the sound of someone moving around the house and a man’s voice crying, picked up via the baby monitor in daughter Phoebe’s bedroom. Convinced the house is haunted, we join her as she whiles away the hours painting until that time arrives. Cue more Dickinson and Carter fun and games.

Robins, with delicious timing throughout, is stirring the ingredients of a classic thriller with Hitchcockian elan, just as guest Lauren (Vera Chok), Sam’s best friend since university days, is stirring the risotto (it just would be risotto, wouldn’t it!).

Smoke screen: Jay McGuiness’s Ben at the glazed door, seeking supernatural truths in 2:22 – A Ghost Story. Picture: Johan Persson

Lauren has brought along her latest boyfriend, builder Ben (The Wanted’s Jay McGuiness): a streetwise, working-class counter to the yuppie London intellectuals.Last to arrive is George Rainsford’s Sam, a self-righteous, sarky, magniloquent sceptic, apologising for losing his phone on Sark. So begins class warfare on what turns out to be big Ben’s old turf before Sam and Jenny stripped out everything, just like in all the houses around there,each ending up with the same soulless kitchen, Ben notes.

Sam is a non-believer in ghosts, insisting more logical reasons must explain the noises. Ben believes in the supernatural; Vera could be persuaded either way. Let’s stay up to 2:22am, Jenny suggests, as the trendy wine flows and arguments rise – as ultimately does the sexual heat – in an echo of the tensions of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf or a Tennessee Williams play.

2:22 – A Ghost Story has the spooks to rival A Woman In Black, but now through the application of modern technology (a baby monitor, an unpredictable Alexa) and the illusion wizardry of Magic Circle member Chris Fisher. What lifts it to five-star status is the brilliance of Robins’s state-of-the-nation character study: the choices of wine, the risotto; Sam’s dinner party playlist (Massive Attack) and Jenny’s too (The XX); the reference to Sam and Lauren working together for a charity in Africa; the discussion about the lizard, mouse and monkey sections of our brain and how fear, rather than love, is our most powerful emotion.

You will love the way Robins fills the hours until 2:22am; the relationship revelations; the debate over the existence or non-existence of ghosts; the Charles Lindbergh story behind the invention of the baby monitor, and ultimately the séance conducted by Ben. Does a ghost appear? No comment, but Ben is like a ghost of the street’s past that, as with Lady Macbeth’s damned spot, cannot be erased, no matter the aspirational revamp.

2: 22: A Ghost Story has ample shocks and alarms, but above all it is uncomfortably, truthfully funny, and all the better for all that intellectual jousting. All four performances are terrific, the dialogue sometimes almost too hot to touch under the combustible direction of Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr.

It feels wrong to highlight one performance, but it has to be said that Jay McGuiness, already boy band chart topper, Strictly champ, musical theatre leading man and young adult novelist, takes to “straight” theatre mightily impressively, every line a winner.

“Shhh, please don’t tell” requests a neon-lit message after the “reveal”. Hush, hush, promises Hutch, but please DO tell everyone to make the Grand Opera House their number one haunt this week.

2:22 – A Ghost Story spooks Grand Opera House, York, until  May 4, 7.30pm nightly plus 3pm, Friday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: